Archive for August, 2017

…to be read in the voice of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi…    “No More First Days of School for You…”

We were at a gathering of friends upon our return to Shanghai for what is  our third year.  The usual suspects had arrived and welcomes were exchanged.  The group consisted of mostly returning and new teachers and students.  There was a smattering of non-teachers as well.  As to be expected the conversation turned to the inevitable first day of school.  It was met with joyful anticipation and reality.  It made my mind shift to the rituals of the first day of school during my nineteen year teaching career.  My favourite part of the first day was to watch the children arrive on their busses.  They were the life blood and spirit of the school.  They turned the institutional buildings into  school houses.  It was also  bitter sweet when I waved good-bye to them on the last day.  During that moment of melancholy I realised just how much I missed that experience.

For me, the first day of school had become a real moment of extreme highs and lows all within about an hours time.  The high…  We start every first day of school with a picture of our son.  This ritual had literally been part of our lives across the globe.  From his first year in England, to the US, to Moscow, to Prague, to Shanghai,  we haven’t missed a year.   Pure joy and pride as he stands taller and brighter with each passing year, sharing his boyish grin from behind a now manly frame.   We have also recently starting taking pictures of my wife on her first day of school.  It seems as she now enters her 24th year of teaching, she too wants to remember the first day and to share her excitement.  I can say that she  embraces a quality of true joy in the teaching experience.  She’s a natural beauty in her approach to life and the classroom.

The low…  Without thinking I said, “I don’t have any first days of School”, it kind of just came out. My wife replied,  “Thats right…,  No more first days of school for you…”   The reality  was an affirmation filled with awakening and reflection.  In that moment I thought, “that explains why I find sadness in the first day of school”  My first days of school weren’t about greeting students anymore, they weren’t about a return to colleagues, they were about saying good-bye and solitude.  Im not going to lie,  it was a brutal confirmation of reality.   I felt anger, self loathing, loss, and a strange loneliness.  I began thinking of the best bits of not teaching… I thought, “I also don’t have curriculum meetings, mindless meetings about grading programs, and all the other shit that kills teaching…”  And yet,  damn I miss that first day with kids…..  not enough to return to teaching, but enough to make the reality a real bummer.

Ritual plays a real part in my art process.  It is with this in mind that I have realised that I haven’t created my own rituals for the beginning of the studio “season”.  In the past 5 years I have dropped my son and wife at school, said hello to friends, then went to work.  I guess its the same for most parents who aren’t teachers…. This year, I did something a bit different.  I decided to be “Present” as I stood and took  in the joy of watching families return to school.  I had  gone through the motion for the past five years, but to be honest as I look back at it, it’s framed in a cloud.

I wanted this year to be different.  I photographed my son,  wished him well.  Joy, Pride, amazement….   I walked my wife to her classroom, and watched her start to sort her desk and prepare for the day.   I chuckled with happiness in how she looked “ready” to see the kids.   I then walked and stood at a point on campus where families would pass.   Being truly present this year,  watching the joy and enthusiasm was the goal.  It didn’t disappoint.   I even had the chance to take some family photos of other people to share their moment.  I had a meaningful conversation with an administrator from the school about the simple but important things he is working to accomplish.    AS I walked to my scooter to start my day,  I was happy for the time to observe and be present.  I also decided to start a new ritual for my first day.   A cookie,  yup a cookie.  I went right from school to the local coffee shop and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee and the most delicious oatmeal raisin cookie in Shanghai.  Im not going to lie,  I still miss the “first day” but after 5 years of working for myself, I’m also learning to embrace the new “first day for me…”